South Carolina has long been run by extreme religious fundamentalists and the result has been some of the most restrictive laws in the country focused on alcohol and gambling. South Carolina was the last state in the country to do away with ‘mini bottles’ in bars meaning that their liquor laws are significantly less progressive than even Utah’s. The state’s gambling laws aren’t far behind—the only forms of gambling currently available in the Palmetto State are charitable bingo games and the state lottery.
The gambling laws in South Carolina transcend ‘restrictive’ and enter the realm of ‘embarrassing’. Technically, all games ‘involving dice and cards’ are illegal regardless of whether or not any money is at stake. Even having a gaming table in your home is prohibited by law though thankfully not seriously enforced. In 1976, charitable bingo games were authorized under very limited circumstances and requiring an individual license.
One interesting side note on South Carolina gambling history—for years the state was one of the two US jurisdictions where payout pinball machines known as ‘bingo pinball’ were legal. The other state was Tennessee but they made bingo pinball illegal in 1980 and as the largest US market for these machines pretty much ended their domestic production. Somehow they remained legal in South Carolina, a status that was re-affirmed by the state Supreme Court as late as 1996.
The premise of bingo pinball’s legality in South Carolina was that the machine wasn’t making the payout, the site operator was. Ostensibly, the site operator was giving the player a ‘refund for unused credits’. The same rationale was used for video poker machines in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and at one point there were thousands of them in bars, truck stops and in shabbily constructed ‘video poker parlors’ around the Palmetto State. The state was in something of a bind since they seemed to fall under the same legal definition as bingo pinball plus they were bringing in a lot of much needed tax revenue. After a decade of legal wrangling, the State Supreme Court declared video poker to be a form of illegal gambling and that was that for the industry in South Carolina.
The South Carolina Education Lottery was signed into law in 2001 with the first drawing taking place in 2002. In 2009, it added the popular multistate games Powerball and Mega Millions. It offers a fairly pedestrian assortment of draw and scratch off instant games. At this time, however, the lottery is the only legal form of gambling available in South Carolina. There is one remaining casino boat operating out of the Myrtle Beach area. This boat offers casino gaming by cruising into international waters. There is currently no plans to offer sports betting in South Carolina and given the state’s longstanding hostility toward gambling in general this isn’t much of a surprise.